Russian Club Owners: Evgeniy Giner (CSKA Moscow) – Raised Above Criticism

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Being the owner of a sports club is one of the most thankless jobs in the world. The fans expect you to spend your own hard-earned money to develop the club and secure trophies, but when the trophies are won, the fans will thank the players and the coach. If it fails however, it is your fault, and the owner is always an easy scapegoat for all of life’s problem.

There are of course exceptions, and perhaps the best of these is Evgeniy Giner, the owner of CSKA Moscow. Since Giner entered the Russian football stage in 2001, when CSKA for the first time left the control of the Russian army, his management and money have transformed the Army Men from being a disappointment in the 1990s to a powerhouse in the 2000s and 2010s, winning six championships, six super cups, seven Russian cups and of course the UEFA Cup in 2005. Giner’s first title, the Russian Cup in 2002, was the club’s first since the Soviet championship title in the 1990/1991 season, and it proved that CSKA were ready to take over the mantle as Moscow’s leading club from arch rivals Spartak and Lokomotiv.

Born in 1960 in Kharkiv, Giner spent his youth in the most Eastern part of the Ukrainian Republic in the Soviet Union. Giner isn’t happy to talk about his life before CSKA, but he once revealed that he started university in Kharkiv, but dropped out before getting a degree. In 1986, he moved to Moscow to start a new life, thus leaving Ukraine behind him.

Since entering the public eye on the football scene, Giner has been surrounded by controversies. He has often been linked with organized crime, although without any solid evidence, and his opponents across the country have often accused the CSKA boss of using bribes to improve the chances of his team being successful. “CSKA will become champions because they have used their administrative resources well,” Spartak Moscow owner Leonid Fedun said in 2006 as the season entered the final stage. CSKA ended up as champions after winning more games than Spartak through the season.

While the attacks for match fixing could just come from jealous opponents, the CSKA patron has admitted that he sees no problem with stimulation of the opponents of his rivals. “I personally don’t see anything wrong with such stimulation,” he told Marc Bennetts in 2006, “But we don’t take part in it, because it is a legal grey area.”

Nevertheless, it is clear that Giner has created enemies one way or another, either through his various businesses or football. In February 2005, just a few months before CSKA won the UEFA Cup, his Mercedes was shot by assassins. Giner himself wasn’t in the car, but his son Vadim was seriously injured.

Match fixing or not, buying the UEFA Cup is impossible, and the 2005 victory stands as one of the proudest moments in the history of CSKA and Russian football in general. The victory marked Russia’s entrance onto the world stage, and made not only Giner, but all of the world optimistic for the future. In 2006, he, and Arsene Wenger, famously claimed it would only be a matter of time before a Russian club would win the Champions League, and considering Zenit’s UEFA Cup victory, and Russia’s performance at the 2008 Euro, it looked like he was right.

Unfortunately, a few years later the world financial crisis struck, while UEFA’s Financial Fair Play and the ruble crisis put an effective stop to the development.

Although CSKA have been unable to take over the world, Giner has proved he is able to thrive in this difficult environment, where every dime has to be counted. Despite the fact that CSKA has worked with a significantly smaller budget than their rivals for many years, they have been the leading force in Russian football since Spartak’s dominance ended in 2001. The Army Men have won six championships since their first in 2003, two more than Zenit St. Petersburg, and four more than Rubin Kazan and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Giner celebrating yet another title together with legendary Brazilian striker Vagner Love.

Giner celebrating yet another championship together with legendary Brazilian striker Vagner Love.

Giner has created a club with an almost unprecedented amount of stability, and while their rivals constantly change head coaches, CSKA have kept Leonid Slutsky on the sideline since the end of 2009. On top of that, Giner and the Red-Blues have also managed to hold together most of the squad, perfectly exemplified with goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev who has been with the club for more than a decade now despite being wanted as a permanent target for several European clubs for many years, while also creating a significant profit on selling players over the years. These days, CSKA is the closest Russia get to a financially sustainable football club, and with the brand new Arena CSKA, which Giner paid for himself, the Army Men now have a source of income that can help develop the club even further, and eventually make it less dependent on Giner’s money.

This summer however, a few weeks after securing yet another championship, problems emerged for CSKA. The Meshchansky District Court in Moscow ordered three companies owned by Giner to pay more than $98 million to creditor Alfa Bank after a series of loans. Although Giner hasn’t admitted this officially, the ruling is believed to be the reason for the Red-Blues’ disappointing summer transfer window. Despite selling Ahmed Musa and Vyacheslav Karavaev for a combined fee of €20.5 million according to Transfermarkt, CSKA’s only signings were Aleksey Ionov and Lacina Traoré, both on loan, and the lack of proper additions to the squad has without doubt hurt the Army Men’s chances of repeating the success of last season.

Earlier this month, financial company Alpari published a report on the Army Men, claiming that they had lost more than €14.55 million in the last year, and that Giner was considering selling the club. Due to his many business ventures in Ukraine, which, combined with the aforementioned bill, has hurt his financial situation. The need to cut spending is also believed to be part of the reason why squad players such as Konstantin Bazelyuk, Viktor Vasin and Kirill Panchenko were sent away on loan, despite all of them playing in positions where CSKA are in desperate need of depth.

These days, Head Coach Slutsky is under heavy attacks from the fans for his dull playing style, poor results and the fact that he failed to bring in a proper replacement for Musa, but many of these issues can actually be traced back to Giner at the top of the pyramid. Nevertheless, Giner has mostly been able to avoid criticism, and an often repeated statement in CSKA fan circles to anyone daring to question his decisions is: “How can you criticize a man who has won the UEFA Cup and built us a stadium?”.

Giner is definitely not the saint some fans of CSKA make him out to be, but it remains safe to say, that the Army-Men wouldn’t have achieved the same successes without his visions, money and ability to create a stable environment.


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Toke Møller Theilade

Author: Toke Møller Theilade

Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at Russianfootballnews.com. As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.

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